Conservatives’ limited tolerance for dissent

The Wall Street Journal ran a wildly misleading chart last week, hoping to “prove” that increasing taxes on the wealthy is a poor way to address the deficit. To its credit, the Tax Foundation, a conservative outfit generally aligned with the Wall Street Journal editorial page, published a piece noting how wrong the newspaper was.

Brendan Nyhan noted what makes this especially interesting: the fact-checking item disappeared soon after.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why this post doesn’t contain any links to the Tax Foundation website. The reason is that this sort of intra-movement criticism has a short shelf life — so short that the post had already vanished by this morning. Scott Hodge, the president of the Tax Foundation, confirmed that the post had been removed: “we withdrew the post for editorial and content reasons.” He did not elaborate further.

Paul Krugman added:

Obviously someone at the Tax Foundation forgot what their job was: they’re movement conservatives, and they’re supposed to serve the movement, not point out inconvenient facts.

And in a way we should be grateful for this episode, which clarifies what the Foundation is really about for anyone who might have been confused.

This seems to come up quite a bit on the right, especially when it comes to conservatives’ intellectual infrastructure, where ideas are supposed to be scrutinized and challenged.

When Cato moved to the right, Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson were shown the door. David Frum was forced out at the American Enterprise Institute after failing to toe the Republican Party line. Bruce Bartlett was shown the door at the National Center for Policy Analysis for having the audacity to criticize George W. Bush’s incoherent economic policies.

In perhaps the most notable example, John Hulsman was a senior foreign policy analyst at the right’s largest think tank, the Heritage Foundation. Hulsman was a conservative in good standing — appearing regularly on Fox News and on the Washington Times’ op-ed page, blasting Democrats — right up until he expressed his disapproval of the neoconservatives’ approach to foreign policy. At that point, Heritage threw him overboard. Cato’s Chris Preble said at the time, “At Heritage, anything that smacks of criticism of Bush will not be tolerated.”

And now the Tax Foundation doesn’t feel comfortable — even when it’s correct — noting an error on the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Intellectually, modern conservatism is facing a painfully sad state of affairs.